Care Not Killing spoke at a meeting of the MedEthics Society at the Hull-York Medical School on 2nd October.

The event was originally billed as a debate against Dignity in Dying who unfortunately had to pull out as they were not able to provide a speaker. The debate would have been over the ethical rights and wrongs of a real-life scenario from the USA when, in 1991, a doctor prescribed barbiturates to a leukaemia patient, making it clear how she could kill herself with them, which she later did:

Diane was a 45 year old lady who committed suicide following an overdose of barbiturates.

Prior to her demise, Diane had been diagnosed with acute myelomonocytic leukaemia. Her oncologists explained that intensive cycles of chemotherapy would give a 25% chance of a cure; however Diane rejected this for fear of hospitalization, pain and the risk of death during treatment. Instead she decided to live the rest of her life outside the hospital. Furthermore, she made it clear to her doctor that she wanted to maintain control of herself and her dignity throughout the course of her illness.

Her doctor responded by directing her to The Hemlock Society who advocate the right to die and suggest effective ways of committing suicide, such as barbiturate overdose. Armed with this information, Diane approached her doctor for barbiturates under the pretext of insomnia. The doctor prescribed the medication with directions on how many barbiturates were necessary for sedation and how many were needed for suicide.

After several months, when bone pain, weakness, fatigue and fevers were the dominating features of her day, Diane took the lethal dose and ended her life.

This scenario bears striking similarities to the recent case of Iain Kerr, the Scottish GP who was suspended by the GMC for repeatedly prescribing temazepam to a suicidal patient, who went on to kill herself with them.

Our spokesperson - a GP with expertise in palliative care - spoke around the scenario, drawing on his personal and professional experiences and outlining the arguments for and against assisted suicide. This led on to around an hour of stimulating and wide-ranging discussion with staff and students, with all viewpoints represented.

A vote at the end of the meeting, on whether assisted suicide should be legalised in the UK, was won by those who - like CNK - opposed a change in the law.

Are you interested in CNK coming to speak to your group? Why not contact us to discuss your requirements?